Canada found lacking in battling campus sexual assault

Years into the MeToo era, half of nation’s provinces lack campus-specific policy

February 25, 2020
Source: Getty

Despite several years of heightened global attention to the hidden problem of sexual assault, much of Canada still lacks a basic set of policies specific to university campuses, advocates have warned.

Half of Canada’s provinces do not have governmental rules setting expectations for assault prevention and the care and treatment of victims, according to an assessment by student leaders in Alberta.

That has led to situations such as that at the University of Calgary, where a population of 30,000 students, plus faculty and staff, have only two caseworkers to field complaints, said Sadiya Nazir, a vice-president of the Council of Alberta University Students.

“Cases come in [and] students are waiting weeks, potentially months, to get the support that they need,” Ms Nazir said. Victims and the accused also can’t be sure from college to college about their rights, responsibilities and expectations, she said.

In a bid to change the situation, the Alberta student council has assembled a report tracking the evolution of campus-based policies on sexual assault since the “MeToo” movement gained wide attention with abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in late 2017.

Canada got its first campus-specific policy on the matter only in 2015, when the government of Ontario required all of its colleges and universities to establish specific procedures for addressing incidents and complaints of sexual violence involving students.

But only four other provinces have joined since then. Nova Scotia has a bill on the matter pending before its legislative assembly, while Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick have nothing pending, the Alberta student council found.

Even though individual institutions in such jurisdictions may have policies that address sexual assault, the creation of a province-wide standard was critical, Ms Nazir said, for reasons that include ensuring adequate staffing and compiling necessary data.

Without the provincial mandates, she said, policymakers and the public have a severely limited idea of the extent of the problem, and campuses are free to cut necessary services at times of budgetary stress.

The policy in Ontario, the Alberta student council said in its report, helped stimulate research survey findings in 2018 showing that 63 per cent of university student respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment. The Ontario government, in turn, has designated C$6 million (£3.5 million) in annual funding for campus-based sexual violence programmes, the Alberta council found.

“Across Canada,” Ms Nazir said, “we don’t have the in-depth knowledge and the grasp on the issue,” hindering efforts to understand and prevent.

For its report, the Alberta council reached back to 2014 to find national data, compiled by Statistics Canada, counting 636,000 cases of self-reported sexual assault incidents, with 87 per cent of them committed against women.

Nearly 47 per cent of those cases involved women between the ages of 15 and 24, the council said.

In Alberta, the government has a province-wide strategy for sexual violence, although without terms specific to the needs of college campuses, the council said. Its report found that 20 of province’s 26 publicly funded universities have their own policies, but with approaches that “vary tremendously”.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Why is it the university's responsibility? It is the law of the land that people should not be subject to sexual assault... and if they have been assaulted they should turn to the police, who have the expertise to investigate and charge alleged assailants. It isn't the university's place to usurp the police.
Could ask similar question, why is it an employer responsibility. E.g. work sexual harassment policies etc. If your boss demands sex and fires you can still sue,etc. Could say its not the employers place to ursurp civil courts or police.

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